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February 2001 Film Music CD Reviews

Film Music Editor: Ian Lace
Music Webmaster Len Mullenger

index page/ monthly listings / February /


The Razor’s Edge  
  OST; London Studio Orchestra conducted by Stanley Black
  PREAMBLE PRCD 1794   [36:19]

Jack Nitzsche who passed away in August last year, was another composer who crossed over from a largely Pop career, although he had had a formal musical education in California. He performed with, composed, arranged or produced music for many, many artists including: Doris Day, Bobby Darin, Marianne Faithfull, Frankie Laine, and Barbra Streisand. With his wife Buffy Sainte Marie, he co-authored the 1982 Oscar-winning song ‘Up There Where We Belong’ from An Officer and a Gentleman. His first extended symphonic work was St Giles Cripplegate that elicited favouable comment from the irascible Bernard Herrmann. Nitzshe’s screen scores include: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Blue Collar; Cutters way, Jewel of the Nile and Mermaids.

Nitzsche’s score for the 1984 film version of Somerset Maugham’s novel with a miscast Bill Murray in the Tyrone Power role of the much better 1946 version, is here presented in two sections. The shorter, has more source-type material. The longer, first section, the original score proper, begins portentously with heavy low bass rumblings of foreboding, leading to short bright fanfares and a long, broad-arched melody that is both noble and romantic. In style, it harks back to the Golden Age. It is reminiscent of Korngold and Steiner. Unhappily the orchestration is not nearly so adventurous. The Mantovani-like high over-reverberant strings cheapen it for my taste. The second track ‘Night Picnic’ is imaginative commencing with a Last Post-type figure before those effulgent strings enter with another romantic variation of the main theme as if the looming war threatens any blossoming of romance. ‘Trenches’ introduces some dissonance and menace into the general slow romantic ruminations (with a sly reference to Richard Strauss’s Also Sprach Zarathustra on the way). ‘Fireworks:World War’ continues in the same vein. ‘Opium Den’ is more interesting. In this cue, Nitzsche most effectively creates a disorientated, dream-like effect. ‘Piedmont Hit’ is one of the most acerbic cues with quotes from the Marselleise and from Copland’s Appalachian Spring and the Fanfare for the Common Man.

The first cue in the second section which has the collective title of ‘Larry’s Journey’ is ‘Arrival in India’, very atmospheric with an unusual but authentic-sounding use of ethnic instruments. One of Nitzsche’s favourite odd instruments – the glass harmonica – is used to create a rather rarified ‘roof-of-the-world’ atmosphere for ‘The Monastery’. ‘Larry’s Journey’ suggests Tibetan wanderings with, again, very effective use of ethnic instruments no matter that it sounds like a hundred tomcats serenading the moon. ‘A Toda Vela’ is a trad jazz interlude while the ‘Organ Grinder’ grinds out a tango (in a Parisian café) with accordion and solo violin.

The documentation disappoints. There is ample information about the composer and his predilection for the glass harmonica but nothing to speak of about The Razor’s Edge itself or Nitzshe’s music for it – a serious omission.

Fair, although the main theme outstays its welcome through too-thin variations.

Ian Lace


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